Columbus didn’t close his learning loop, did you?

Maybe it’s time to rename Columbus day in America Discovery day.  I’m suggestng both for the sake of school children as well as to renew the american explorer spirit.  Why?

Becasuse unlike the time of Columbus, the opportunities for learning and connections are limitless while we continue to shrink rather than  address larger problems that I beleive learning differently would overcome.  I’m not merely suggesting more discovery learning, but a more nimble interactively supported blend of formal and informal, social and personal, guided and spontaneous,

In school I learned that Columbus had a distinct point of view. It’s true he did. But it wasn’t his belief in a round earth that made his views different, it was his calculations. Sure, in school I was taught that in Columbus time, many people believed the world was flat, a story Washington Irving’s embellished history put forward and that later writers supported.

Columbus believed that the globe was smaller and that the distance at the equator was smaller. Traveling by ship across the Atlantic was not a foolhardy proposition, but a short cut to Asia.

It’s harder to teach how a bad calculation could turn out so well.  The atmosphere of entrepreneurship today often extolls the virtues of failure.  Columbus could be taught this way but I would encourage a broader objective—a celebration in the process of discovery.

Process challenges

Texas Tech depicts their discovery process for students encircled by phases of exploration, research , investigation and confirmation.

Columbus took a slightly different path to discovery. He was self-taught and lacked the advantage of formal education which makes his calculation errors easier to imagine.  In spite of the generally held wisdom of the time, Columbus persuaded Spain to finally sponsor his voyage.  How? Perhaps he appealed to King and Queen’s natural curiosity about the world, expressed empathy for their desire for Asian pepper.  Somehow he managed to get them take his bet that the Court’s trusted advisors were the ones who had miscalculated.

Columbus didn’t doubt his convictions, and it’s unlikely that he presented his argument  as a formal hypothesis test. Let’s suppose it was.

Proof of the earth’s size had been known to respected astronomers of the time for centuries. Additional evidence of the folly included documented disaster that had befallen those who attempted to go west, including Columbus whose first boats were destroyed.  The available information made the voyage too daunting. No recorded knowledge of  anything other than the open western sea  separating Asia and Europe and the distance calculations suggested a crossing would take three years at current ship speeds.

I imagine Irving’s historical embellishment originated with evidence of the closed mindedness of  the inner circle around King Ferdinand and Isabella. Few at court were interested in taking seriously the ideas of a self-educated, foreigner.  This circle of knowledge didn’t appreciate the notions of discovery with our 21st century sensibilities.

God, King and country motivated many and the formally trained astronomers’ calculations eliminated any remaining doubt. Faith in the unknown was expressed as faith in higher powers of authority. This was true for Columbus too. Columbus stood by his calculations even if he didn’t frame them as a hypothesis.  Perhaps what persuaded the court to finance another voyage were the size of the opportunities, which were to large to miss were Columbus to be proved right.  A faster route to the riches that lay in Asia proved irresistable, especially if Columbus was daring enough to assume the risks of what many believed certain death. 

Circluar learning

Its not clear that 21st century thinking has any greater tolerance for the unknown,  Faith in God, King and country for many has been unquestioningly placed on technology.   

The sun, the moon both observable circles whose motion throughout history proved inspiring. Euclid took advantage of his observations in relation to his staionery  to establish geometry and the means to calculate distances. Today, GPS signal sensors do it automatically. These logical systems offer one avenue of discovery, and a path to see our way though in situations where solutions are not obvious or remain unknown to us.

Learning and problem solving activities both rely on relative understandings and may be synonomous. Both seek additional information,then  try to use that information and pause to see what happens.

  • Learning includes a reflection step which processes the experience in order to understand and file it for future use.
  • Problem Solving, often keeps going through the cycle of acquiring information, trying to use/apply information only to observe what happens.

The beauty of a formal hypothesis test appears in its record. Tested information also gets documented and proves out the hypothesis not merely giving results.  In reviewing the record we learn what works and can then formulate further questions to test.

The Columbus story could be taught as context to learning about the formation of hypotheses.  The Learning experience could include math and astronomy as a means to translate observable information into testing ideas and math skills. Columbus offers a story of continuing to question accepted views of the world within a framework. The challenges he faced along the journey and its success bears little if any relationship to the thinking and the knowledge circulating among the court advisors. Columbus leaned on what he knew, which he acquired almost exclusively through direct experience.  It’s why he died believing he had reached Asia.

It’s his grit, persistence and process of assimilating knowledge certainly bear celebrating.

Validated Learning

Eric Ries 2011 publication of the Lean Startup celebrates practical discovery.  He describes and outlines how a sure thought, an idea isn’t enough and why knowing doesn’t always give way to sure things.

The court advisors knew the distances better, their calculations were true and yet there was no way to discover the mass of continents that lay between Europe and Asia.  This falls into that category of unknown unknowns and if you are looking to grow, looking for answers sometimes you have to do something a little crazy.

Think about what you know, can you differentiate let alone defend it?  Does your knowledge come from believing, or from  trying and testing experiences that allowed you to discover what works, where and when?

Ries asks an appropriate question.   “How can we learn more quickly what works, and discard what doesn’t?”

The circular process he depicts summs up what so many people believe matters and will produces success.  The circle suggests an inevitability to learning that is synonomous to the inner advisory circle in the Spanish Court.  At the core, there’s an attraction that I’m not sure will keep the learning in motion or provide the feedback naturally that generates new ideas.

Among Columbus lesser known discoveries were the trade winds in the Atlantic. The multiple voyages allowed him to learn some things new but it never helped him to recognize what the advisors in the court learned from his voyage, the existence of additional lands on the globe.

Does the picture above match your own learning or problem solving experience? Formal learning tries to do this and marks its consistency and accountability.  What’s  measured specifies whether you learned the established outcomes.  In other words,beware of circular reasoning at work, another possible lesson to be gained studying the Columbus story as discovery.

Everyday experiences, or self-structured learning turn out to be messier and less consistent. Today information surrounds us. New technologies make it easier than ever to unlock and discover meaning and learn about our environment, interactions and sources of value.

The challenge is to keep the learning loop open revise the the image of learning circle  to inspire more continuos, dynamic possibilities.  Columbus should still be celebrated but let’s be clear its for the sake of further discovery.


The best gift you can give–space to be heard


Collaboration (Photo credit: yuan2003)

I grew up in a big family and the only way to survive was to learn how to collaborate with my siblings and work out a strategy to move mutual interests ahead. That meant, I had to learn to be good listener and less a manipulator. Harder still was something I didn’t understand and only learned later–being right is over-rated.  It’s easier to create a willing partner to my ideas if I allow others opportunity to put their gloss on it too.

I guess I didn’t realize or value my natural collaborative style. It took me by surprise in many work situations that few people were as willing to coöperate. That for all the times I used my strengths and capabilities to enable others whose talents or expertise was in a different domain, I discovered I couldn’t always end-run their barriers.

After a couple of serious catapulting maneuvers that I knew would be career ending, I benched myself. I took myself out of that arena and went to find a new game and new players. Years later, I began to recognize that perhaps there was another way to help people make needed changes and liberate both their own career and the organization?

I revisited some of my graduate studies in natural bias and incongruity of human decision-making in the face of uncertainty, specifically the work of my professor Hillel Einhorn and Robin Hogarth and that of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. I was green when it came to internalizing new ideas, some of them were easier to grasp than others and the formulas often eluded my connected comprehension. What did stick was the following:

In complex situations, we may rely too heavily on planning and forecasting and underestimate the importance of random factors in the environment. That reliance can also lead to delusions of control. “


It’s akin to finding something familiar and thinking “oh yeah, I got this.” Only to discover that you can’t exactly do it. Random elements aside, its difficult to recognize some subtle elements. Knowing all the steps to a good forehand stroke or golf swing, isn’t the same as actually connecting movements that successfully contact and propel the ball.

The problems and inconsistent behavior presented by unconscious intuition make linkages difficult, and prevent us from fully leveraging learning from parallel experiences. In my case, I found it difficult to extend and apply to interpersonal relationships the lessons and discoveries extrapolating risk I learned statistically modeling people’s financial behavior.

The bridge I sought arrived when a corporate reorganization landed me in outplacement for senior executives and I took the Meyer’s Brigg’s assessment for the first time.  Conveniently, I learned my type –INTP, and shown its rarity in corporate banking and absence among many c-suite executives.  At the time, when I wanted to reconcile my inability to survive a political reorganization, MBTI fueled my rationalization to leave corporate banking.  It was years later than I learned to recognize the confirmation bias at work.

My personal journey of experiential learning continued upon discovering the work of Roger Schank whose work in cognitive psychology emphasizes the importance of story and learning by doing. Story telling represents the synthesis of new learning with past experiences. The newly acquired knowledge can be more easily assimilated and finds outlets that further extend its value and build additional knowledge.  Learning presented whole in a bubble like school without context, doesn’t get the benefit of a road test which denies its connectivity to our perceptions and daily encounters.

But I digress. Collaboration was my topic. Good collaborators succeed because they recognize the distinctions they bring in perspective and perception.  Unexpected encounters or deviations in routine often present a stumble point.  Whether due to lack of confidence, disconnect between knowledge and know how or complete absence of knowledge, its’ risky to reveal our vulnerability.  Naturally, we find it easier to turn to people we know and trust for suggestions, tips, additional insight and information about how to proceed.  Alternatively, situations and circumstances that compel us to do it ourselves,  may arise when  we feel compelled to prove something, test ourselves and maybe distrust assurances others offer.

Which brings us to the challenges in beginning a collaborative venture or willing partnerships. The same stumble points above must be negotiated. Emotions, ever-present in every situation don’t necessarily dissipate because people know each other. Situation or circumstances that defy our comfort zone, know-how or knowledge provide pivotal moments for others to offer help, as long as we free up the emotional and physical space that allows them to voice their thoughts.

It seems obvious but again easier said then done.  The best way to gain the trust, friendship and cooperation of others is to give the one thing everyone wants.

As part of the development team on Collaborating Minds, I met Laurel Tyler a new member on Collaborating Minds.  She reminded me of the following lesson when she shared what makes her effective in working with teams and solving problems.

“People just want to know that they have been heard.”

The simplicity explain my eternal optimism and the approach I’ve found that makes me successful too.  It explains I’m on collaborating minds and helping build that community. If you would like to learn more about this project, drop me a line.

But better, try it. Amaze yourself  and discover how much easier everything gets in return.

May the spirit of the season inspire your listening.

Markets naturally close loops and collapse, can you keep them open?

The more the more

Concepts of interdependent interactions

The current theory about the nature of our universe describes an ever-expanding system.

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey describes the three possibilities pictured on the right as follows.

  • Open, suggests that the universe will expand forever
  • Flat, the universe will also expand forever, but at a rate slowing to zero after an infinite amount of time.
  • Closed, the universe will eventually stop expanding and recollapse on itself,

These possibilities also apply to the concepts of markets, cultures and geography. Yes, I said geography and it is your sense of doubt that both interests me and is the subject of this post.

Life on the Frontier

Ongoing expansion, what I like to call the more the more can be difficult to see; principally because  we recognize boundaries before we understand the opportunity.  What we know doesn’t come to exhaust what’s knowable and often great opportunities present by pushing forward into the unknowable realm. For example, the concept of reproduction naturally creates many from one, ideas too, tend to generate more ideas, one event spawns multiple stories. So why does our mind resist the concept of the more the  more so earnestly?  You did, didn’t you?  In each example, your mind naturally generated the counter case or qualifications that challenge basic beliefs in loose conceptions such as the more the more. Don’t get me wrong, edges prove very useful. Knowing the beginning or that the end is at hand helps, and the more the more merely builds on that realization.

Inability to see an idea’s validity doesn’t preclude its existence.  New concepts find their way into our web of understanding; however more often they are quickly  buried by every day experiences that prove the contrary. Consider the construct, “the United States.” The idea finds expression in a variety of forms, separated by clear boundaries. Which popped for you?  Perhaps the United States appears in your thoughts as a very concrete physical representation such as part of the North American continent, or as an outline on a map. Neither of these describes the emotional representations conjured in the minds of a new citizen, a tourist or a terrorist.

Utility theory by contrast, attributes a root cause to the propagation phenomena that perpetuates an expectation of quid pro quo, Value for Value. I work in exchange for money that I can use to buy things. Economic principles and monetary theory captures much of the same concepts but is a poor substitute for a universal theory.

Specific, General or Generic

Our mind seamlessly associates specific, general and generic cases of a single construct into a curious looking web of meaning.  Some strands loosely connect on the periphery, while others layer more tightly together around a series of cores.  The meaning that first comes to mind, doesn’t negate the others but may need other distant cross-associations to remind us.Experience can obscure our reality

Let’s talk markets. Most of us spend a significant part of our day working, where we work, or what we do represents a market and our labor factors into the dynamics.  We also consume things, and the choices we make on which items, where and when represents our participation in other markets.  For example, urban societies prefer to cover their feet.  The look –structure and style of these coverings tend to vary by climate, activity and gender. Our mind recognizes the common linkage of the numerous names attached to the variations of these objects  that cover feet.  On this level of linkage, we may attach the same basic utility to all foot coverings. That utility takes on more definitions and attributes when we consider our attachment to our culture and desire to fit in. Do foot coverings in India equate to the usefulness of foot coverings in Brazil or New York City? I cheated just now, I interchanged usefulness with utility to help ease your mind.  To validate the more the more try suspending the first boundary you meet and search your memory banks and reach for greater understanding.

Do you feel ready to put that insight to work in your business?  To grow or better serve the marketplace, we often have to re-imagine the boundaries.

If there’s a dominant player in your market, how might redefining the market give you a bigger share?

Don’t let the edges or boundaries you see stop you from challenging the value of this  representation? You don’t have to challenge the sovereignty of the United States to recognize that there are ideas that transcend the concrete borders, and capitalizing on those may help you serve your existing  markets better and expand into new ones easily.


Understanding ain’t believing and yes there are economic consequences!

This is a "thought bubble". It is an...

Recently, I came across this academic article differentiating belief and understanding and it triggered an explosion of thoughts.   When I teach, I  often encounter students who fail to grasp the topic and naturally their puzzled looks make me try to explain the idea again, differently.  I  never considered the possibility it wasn’t  my explanation that confused them, but maybe the ideas themselves.

Lost in Space

Our brains are wired to discard irrelevant information and to some degree if the new information doesn’t jive with what we know or believe–the ultimate cognitive dissonance occurs. Or as the Lost in Space robot would say: “That does not compute!”

As a teacher, I found the article unsettling on multiple levels.  First, because I never considered the potential conflict when preparing my lessons.  Second, what I confirmed talking to a High school math teacher in a large public school in Berwyn, IL:  Teaching helps students meet standards not to understand.

Personally, my limited experience as a public school teacher proved deeply challenging. In choosing to help students understand  not merely to pass.  I taught a vastly diverse population of 4th graders in a suburban Chicago classroom.  Student  IQs ranged from 5-95% on the chart, and the socio economic status of their families were equally diverse with many receiving subsidized breakfast and lunch. One student was severely ADHD, had lost his mother and his medication was constantly being adjusted. I had my hands full and could never figure out how to insure that every kid understood.

My own preference for immersive learning as a young student, in which my students allowed us to  play it out and learn by doing made school fun.  An approach, I actively sought to replicate in my teaching.  Returning to study education later in life, I was first dumbfounded to learn that so little was understood about effective teaching methods.  This isn’t really as mysterious a problem as I pose.  One of the oldest professions remains mysterious becasue the  purpose or objectives of education continue to evolve.  Sure there is wide agreement that everyone should have a command of the basics, the three Rs–Reading wRiting and aRithmetic.  How do you measure competency in these subjects?  what methods make it possible for students to gain competency or even mastery? If you have had a child in school, then you are familiar that new methods continue to be introduced.  Similarly, schools are held accountable to new standards and competency measurements.  Yes, the rules for private and charter schools differ from those demanded by the public.
Surprise, understanding information and knowing something are not the same thing. There are somethings you understand but could never articulate and vice versa some things you know but don’t necessarily understand.  For example, we know or learn how to drive without ever understanding how the car we drive actually works.  We may understand what someone else may be feeling without knowing precisely.
The areas where our understanding and knowledge most align come from ideas that involve multi-sensory learning experiences. It’s one thing to watch someone do something or find the results and another to reproduce them.  I can watch Tiger Woods, study his swing, stance and then when I attempt to hit the ball I discover just how much I don’t know.
This post won’t be able to address the issues fully.  I’m wondering where and how we might be able to resolve some of these contradictions and do it to help more people achieve. Sure high scores matter, but don’t we also want higher understanding that makes it possible for more people to solve more problems  when and where ever they encounter them? Teaching for understanding should count, in fact it’s a great book too!  But I’m also making a quick case for multi-sensory learning that allows more of us to connect what we know to things we understand.
Take history.  The recent Steven Spielberg movie on Abraham Lincoln attempted to show us more of the reality of the politics during the Civil War, but it also brought to life the words Americans are frequently taught.  We know about the civil war, we know that it was about slavery and we may know the Gettysburg address too.  But how does knowing that help me understand the world I encounter today?  How does learning history help me?
Imagine  learning history by role play? Being asked to study and recite the lines of Gettysberg address makes it easier for us to recall them and ponder them. Playing out the issues allows us to wire our brain to make our own meaning, personalize the lessons to connect to our pre-existing experiences.  The challenge may be that owning and personalizing the results takes time but it also complicates the  expectation of a singular correct answer or take on history.  Personalized meaning may prove more useful, stickier and authentic but it makes passing a standardized test much more difficult.
In fact, the accumulation of specific representations of  ideas and details are the only measures of learning that society at large respects and values. Today we value a passing grade and top performance measurable on a singular dimension.  Daniel Goleman‘s work on multiple intelligences increased the appreciation of talents beyond traditional accumulation of facts, but don’t celebrate them as equal achievements. High scoring SAT,  ACT and GPA scores open doors to further academic study and elite higher education opportunities.
This little monograph published in 2006 warrants more attention. In part, our system reflects the consequences of  the larger failure by the education system to differentiate student responses based on their belief and understanding versus answering according to the expectation of the testers.  The consequences of teachers teaching students to pass the test  may help some students further their schooling and many of them may gain understanding in the process.  But what about the others , where school material doesn’t match their knowledge of what matters  outside of school?   Teaching without understanding fails them and represents a failure of the investments to realize the returns of a capable society.
But there’s more.  Personally, this piece opened two divergent avenues of thought.  One,  given the growing research into the workings of the human brain how might cognitive processes  guide our behavior in the face of two truths. Two, findings by the economist James Heckmann whose work focuses on the development of human skills, abilities and health capacities for example demonstrate  the different values of those who graduate highschool and those that pass the GRE.

Two truths

T​he concept of holding two truths at once parallels the paradox of knowing what is right and yet believing it wrong​.

The FMRI of psychopaths who suffer from false delusions or paranoia, found their brain processes to differ from the general population. Interestingly, FMRI scans of democrats and republicans show each population to process information differently.  Both research illustrates the power and influence of different beliefs and explain the differences in our thinking and actions.  The reconciliation or rationalization process literally works differently based on early wiring of beliefs.
Carol Dweck, a noted childhood development scholar’s research explores the opportunities that emerge to rewire in adolescence.  Writing a response for the Boston review to research by James Heckmann that emphasized the value of larger emphasis on interventions to foster huma skills ad capacities, she writes:
“The success of the adolescent interventions derives from their laser-like focus on particular non-cognitive factors and the beliefs that underlie them—knowledge stemming from psychological theory.”
I often explain that my life changed when I began graduate work at the University of Chicago​.  I discovered what thinking felt like relative to merely learning.  I experienced integration of knowledge I was accumulating, the adding to and reconciling of my previous understandings with new, deeper understanding  of how things worked.
Many things I believe don’t require me to defend or explain.The best explanation I can muster extends from the recognition by the researchers on the primacy of self-centered meaning making.  My truth, what I know and what I believe begins with discovery.  The child who asks incessantly why seeks to make more sense of what they encounter.  The information they receive forms a foundation that like the sand on the beach slowly gets replaced with each new wave of information.  The emotional issues that cloud our thinking
 I’m sharing this article with the hope that you may have some additional insight into the topic or further my own knowledge surrounding  the significance of reconciling belief and understanding.


Just Try It!


Hey, Mikey Likes It!

What’s not to like? Try it!

That’s what my mother would say when her children looked suspiciously at unfamiliar food on their plates.  Growing up,the rule was that you had to eat everything on the plate, or at least try it.  Later, my father modified the rule  to you don’t have to like it, but you had to eat it.  It’s how I came to eat asparagus with a glass of milk chaser and how our dog was well fed.

Clearly, not everything that we do,  or feel compelled to do is likeable.  The doing however can and often does prove incredibly satisfying. Likewise, adding knowledge or understanding also makes any activity satisfying. Doing alters what we know. The coordination effort forces us to focus on details we often overlook, or fail to consider relevant and our actions lead us to understand the task differently than our first evaluation. The expression “easier said, than done,” ring a bell?

Experience and experiment, both French words, describe the process of trying, attempting, a trial or the testing of an idea or impulse. The result? We gain new insights and  understanding when we integrate multiple sensory data points at once–as when things we see requires us to coördinate our moves.

I hear and  forget.
I see and I remember.
I Do and I understand.

Confucius wasn’t the only one to understand the power of coordinated multi-sensory input.  Most learning happens informally and when left to chance the results are counterproductive.  Unlearning or replacing what we know with new information requires confrontation; since we find it easy to adapt to a slight change of circumstance when we recognize the common link.  The history of putting wheels on boxes is quite lengthy but it is only very recently that wheels appeared on suitcases, crazy right? Not really. Perceptions often create barriers that are not easily crossed, particularly when formed from a cultural association and not from  direct experience.  Take a second and think about a  restaurant.  Naturally which one, its kind or style that you imagined reflects a choice among numerous variations. What you know about or understand about restaurants as in how to get served, how to dress etc are secondary to the restaurant you imagined; yet they come together as one package of knowledge that determines your behavior.

Experience vs. Source

Information Central

Information Central (Photo credit: pjern)

Try thinking about Africa. Consider how you came to know about it. Africa, per Wikipedia, represents the second-largest and second-most-populous continent in the world with 54 sovereign countries. These facts differ from my intense study in 1969 of the continent in  my sixth grade classroom. I mention it as illustration of the double bind that catches the education system. Like Wikipedia, the material presented to students is as dynamic as the individual contributors to the system but recourse built into the latter may be inappropriately applied.  Should we rate the quality of sources differently than we do a vocation?  Imagine comparing student learning from Wikipedia vs. an educator who has little flexibility in choosing the content requirements used to evaluate their performance. As a student, my sixth grade teacher gave me experiences to collect information from a variety of sources, refashion it to make it meaningful and most importantly encouraged me to keep learning, stay curious and continue to revise what I learned.  We brought the daily headlines into the classroom to share and inspired me to take an ongoing interest in the news.

Gauging Knowledge

045/365 - Comfort Zone

045/365 – Comfort Zone (Photo credit: TheRogue)

Can one gauge that measures knowledge also measure understanding? Who determines sufficiency or the necessary amount? In the US, each grade level has a set of achievement standards at both the Federal level  and state level.

Achievement can be obvious though knowledge and understanding are fluid.  Typically, repeating a fact demonstrates what we know and our ability to recall it without necessarily understanding what the fact means. For example, US middle school students all study the US constitution, and law students do too; but few possess constitutional knowledge comparable to supreme court justices. The justices’ responsibility call for them to understand the constitution at a level of articulation that is actionable.  What I know or believe may not matter or may prove incomplete relative to their ruling.

It’s not just the gauge, but the dynamics of how and what we know changes both externally and internally.  Every one of our senses has equal access to the input in our environment; and yet very little activates our consciousness and not all the input gets tagged to the same experience. In addition the input gets sorted for relevance. Memory reflects the recall coincident of relevant, sensory input associated together. No wonder no two people can recall the same event identically? It’s also why repetition makes us better.

Do anything again and your attention shifts from the first experience memory.  Additional information gets added and tagged for its relevance.  Even if the first time triggered a negative emotion, such as fear, anger or anxiousness, it added more information  to your memory. Emotion does serve as our lookout scout.  It will steer us clear from upsetting circumstances and raise internally doubt or trust issues.

Try it, you'll like it!As this famous Alka Seltzer commercial reminds us, one bad taste makes us unlikely to repeat the experience.  Similarly a new experience when our senses find a near match to an earlier experience, it may get tagged as suspect. Trying something may require us to overcome a prior, related experience. The action taken becomes more meaningful when we attach or identify benefits.  The attachments also impact our willingness to try the same or related experience.

Is open mindedness really possible? Yes,  if you recast open-mindedness as an interest in knowing more and deepening an understanding. Moments of relaxation and comfortable situations make it easier to acquire new information.  In contrast, our natural movements especially those that require no conscious thought, saves us the trouble of processing new information.  The more efficient we become the less we take time to focus on details that differentiate every moment’s passing. Failure to notice, cuts an experience short, underestimates its significance and we move on.

Without notice, there’s no understanding, very little satisfaction and no wonder we feel less accomplished for time spent. Assuming an active focus will engage more of our senses and quickly exhaust us.  It takes energy to reconcile previously held ideas and beliefs to the immediacy of our reality.

Think shopping.  Regardless of what and where you set out to buy something, chances are the expectation may not hold up in the store. More choices or features

It’s why I stop myself from justifying the merits of something and am keen on having people experience for themselves.  Long ago, my movie course instructor warned us to avoid reading reviews before viewing the film.  Sitting and letting the director reveal the story to me does indeed make the film and my experience fresh. If the movie is good, I may need to see it a second time to catch what I missed.  Repeat viewing allows me to deepen my understanding and see things I may have initially missed.

Think about how rarely we get the chance to repeat an experience. Did your appreciation change with repetition?

The socialization we experience of learning in the classroom biases us to expect teachers to know more than students.  understood on movies  I still count by tapping my fingers and don’t hesitate to see if I can fix things myself.  In short, I try first and ask questions later.

Am I old-fashioned?  No, I merely acknowledge that I learn to do better by direct experience.  Thinking is another form of doing and perhaps the limited opportunity to experience some ideas, make them difficult to revise?   Why do I think that everyone should pay their fair share of taxes? What active experience will help me test this idea and see if it works?  Or the idea that bank CEOs are overpaid?

Stay tuned, the idea of adjusting sensibilities continues!


Discovery Needs more legs



As a kid, I remember how much I loved Cracker Jack.  Sure, the caramel flavored popcorn and peanuts were tasty. But the discovery that every box had a prize inside hooked me.

Discovery, the process of realizing something new doesn’t have to happen joyfully. Discovery associates or naturally links in our mind with surprise, so why not celebrate the unexpected emotion, object, or idea too?  Considered as a process, discovery advances our understanding of our environment– its conditions, dimensions, contents and workings.

Discovery is how we learn

Yesterday, the United States celebrated Columbus Day.  I asked my 8-year-old niece what she knew  about Columbus.  She told me he found a new way around the world and “found” America.  Over lunch she and her older 14-year-old brother shared what has become the takeaway on the Columbus story.

Since I was in grade school, the basic story has undergone serious revisions.  Columbus shows how facts change when we acknowledge the legitimacy of other perspectives..  It’s reasonable that the language of the story would change based on your point of view and that additional information might challenge previous assumptions.

In suburban Chicago kids learn about Columbus for the first time in 3rd grade and by middle school they learn Columbus was lost, as in clueless. The facts we know today make it impossible for Columbus to have “discovered” America, particularly when he mistook for Indians the native inhabitants, which further exemplified that Columbus was dumb.

The turnaround of the Columbus story, from a brave, invincible, enterprising captain and discoverer of a new world claimed for Spain, saddens me.  My nephew further explained that  Columbus wasn’t brave, he was headed for jail unless he stepped up to take the voyage .  Really?  This was a new twist on the story, until I realized that my nephew merely turned around the order of the events in the Columbus story.  Columbus did end up in prison toward the end of his life, and may have died there.

Still, were it not for his persistent belief in his calculations that a faster route lay to the west, he wouldn’t have pleaded in royal court after royal court from Italy to Spain for the chance.  It still took courage, leadership once Queen Isabella  granted him three boats and paid for his crew to sail west across the Atlantic, a direction few were willing, and fewer succeeded.

Discovery, tactics to change beliefs

The fuller story of Columbus, the sum of all his activities in life may not suggest heroism, or show signs of a dignified, inspirational, gentleman, warrior or leader.  Kids learn the facts and left to balance them and maybe that’s appropriate.  Discovery is like that, sometimes our first beliefs of people or things shatter with additional perspectives, information, facts and context.

Nike the company, initially revered for its shoes was later vilified when buyers learned the conditions of the factory workers overseas.  Its founders made changes and once again Nike stands tall and stronger than ever. Apple has not yet had the same comeuppance, in part because few people are ready, willing or interested enough to look past the iconic reflections of the brand and its products. Discovery is like that too.

We like what we know and how  it makes us feel.The less I know about Apple, the easier it is for me to feel good.  I can be hipper, cooler with my Apple manufactured technology. Why do I want to know how Apple makes its products? Why does it matter?  Besides, will it suddenly reflect badly on me if I know what Apple does that’s bad and ignore it?

Imagine the SuperPacs using their political campaign tactics to pelt Apple for disregarding their overseas contractors’ working conditions and human rights violations.  Condemning those who profit from another’s misfortune might come back to haunt them.  Circulating this news might be considered shortsighted and run contrary  to the personal Super Pac investor and their interests.  Discovery can be selective.

Discovery and firsts

Children in discoveryDiscovery, doesn’t mean necessarily first. Discovery when nurtured, encouraged and celebrated rewards learning.   Successful businesses uncover markets for their products or services, and yes, I’d prefer business run responsibly but opportunity doesn’t always wait for all perspectives to align.  A responsible discovery process and attitude serves to remind every one of  possible consequences, as in “don’t cut off the hand that feeds you.”

In any first encounter, natural instincts raise our defenses.  In The prisoner’s dilemma model, the consequences of cooperating and not cooperating are very clear.  The dilemma presented reflects an inability to take into consideration what choices others have made before deciding whether to cooperate.  The model demonstrates the complex relationship between the learning and discovery process and our choice of actions. Another model is the Monte Hall problem in which the discovery of more information challenges our ability to win.  Both of these models illustrate that it’s not discovery that presents the problem, but the unsettling feeling of uncertainty that sometimes follows.

The absence of information, may represent a self-imposed limitation. though some problems are more complex and lay outside the bounds of present knowledge. Gaining more knowledge merely invites us to integrate it with what already know, and not dismiss it outright.  Open discovery processes increase possibilities for everyone, and we should begin to help others appreciate and respect discovery more if we want to play with more favorable odds.

Open minds filled with a sense of possibility, make them more accountable for their actions.  Columbus was ultimately accountable to the monarchs that invested in his voyage of discovery.  So the captives he took landed him in prison, impoverished in spite of the riches that resided in the lands he discovered.   None the less, we should do a better job of helping our children understand the value of Discovery and use Columbus day to celebrate and  promote adaptive, innovative thinking.  I hope that’s why Chicago Ideas Week began on Columbus Day, if not I suggest it become a tradition!

Can you think of other examples of the value of open discovery?  Please share them.